Talking to your child about the absent parent

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2022 04:31 | By

Growing up without her dad had not always felt complete for 26 year-old-banker, Asha  Achieng. But growing up in a traditional society and having all her basic needs met barely left her a reason to bother anyone about the whereabouts of her father.  She feels though, talking about it much earlier would have prepared her for understanding of who her father really is.

“I never asked about him because my mum provided everything to the extent that I did not feel like I was missing out. And with our African parents, you barely have that conversation. But later when I was old enough and even working, I got in touch with him. After getting in touch, he has not shown any interest or effort. In fact, I am planning to see a therapist because I think lately it’s been taking a toll on me, it’s annoying me, yet I think and say I am okay,” she intimates. 

Single parenting has through time gained a more stable place in the society compared to a few decades back.  As a matter of fact, the new Competency Based Curriculum has opened up early learners to various family dynamics and the fact that not all family set-ups are the same as others are purely run by single parents. This has created a better foundation for single parents to address the absentee parent issue. The bittersweet truth though is that…it is still one of the most challenging moments for any parent, when their young ones start asking questions about where the other parent is. 

Answering the big question

As a single parent, be aware that your child is observing from both the society and learning environments and they start to realise there are two parents — mum and dad. Their friends will talk about their fathers, or mothers doing this and that. But they don’t have this experience. And then the big question will be presented… “Where is my dad/mum?”

Faith Muthoni, a single mother of three shares that she has become more open to talking about the issue to her 16 and 10 year-old, because she believes it is important that they understand and be ready to how life really is.

“As a man or woman, immediately you realise that the marriage is not working, it is important to use whatever time you have to protect your future. In my case, I just accepted that there are things that I cannot handle and would rather even live as a widow. The children are inquisitive, but would it be easier to get married again and be ready for disappointments? No. So, for my children, yes they asked about our single family. And I explained to them that this is something that happens. I know that eventually they will also come to know more because they keep on calling the dad, but they see he doesn’t make any efforts. They also see that mummy is doing her best,” shares Faith.

Through her YouTube Channel-Parenting Conundrums, Psychologist Faith Mutegi has advised single parents on the importance of handling the queries on the absent parent with care and love, rather than demonising the absent parent.

“As an adult, you might start panicking when the questions start coming. Please don’t demonise the other half who is absent, male or female, don’t turn the child against the other person. When you turn them against the other parent, you are making them make a decision against another parent, however bitter you are… go talk to someone else, but don’t badmouth the other parent in front of the child. A child will be put in a position they should never be in. Be very careful with the words you use about the other parent in front of the child,” says the child psychologist.

Do not lie

While the other parent might have been long dead in your head, the expert advices against selling this thought to the child, especially when the said parents are alive. Because one way or the other they will know. The lie causes a permanent mistrust between parent and child.

Make sure the child knows that it is not their fault. Children, especially younger children, see the world in relation to themselves, and therefore events that occur outside of their influence are perceived as either due to something they did or intended to affect them. 

When a parent leaves, it’s important to emphasise (repeatedly, perhaps) that the parent’s absence is not due to something the child has done.

“As much as it is hard, explain to the child that families are different. Others have mums and dads, others just dads, others just mums. Give an example using the families you know and include your situation as well. Be careful, that when you are handling such issues, you have also processed it. 

So, get someone you need to talk to, a counselor. You can also get a journal. So, when they ask you about the other parent, don’t react from a bitter point of view. It’s not their fault, but it becomes a problem if the only answer you give comes from an angry place,” says Faith. 

Most importantly, she says, one should find a way to answer a purely innocent question, handle your business and answer the bitter truth to your children without causing discourse.

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